When director Diana Fabiánová showed The Moon Inside You at a festival in New York, she was arrested by the port authority. “They didn’t believe I could make a movie about menstruation,” she said. “They thought that I am provoking the police officers in the airport — that I am just kidding.”
The same incredulity met her on street corners in France, Spain, England and Slovakia. When asked what he thought about menstruation, one man in the film concluded several moments of flustered silence by declaring that he cannot think at all right now, and simply walking away.
Such incidents are precisely why Fabiánová set out to make The Moon Inside You. She was tired of the secrecy which has surrounded the subject for so long — the way that our taboos have swept it under the rug and stifled our communication.
Speaking from Bratislava, she explained, “I started to do this movie because I couldn’t just believe that you should be in pain because you are a woman. And all the doctors, when you go and you say, ‘Well, I have a pain, what can I do?’, they say, ‘Well, it’s a part of womanhood, it’s the price you have to pay that you can have children,’ and it’s bullshit!” The doctors, she said, “just don’t care to do anything about it because they can sell you the pills”.
From contraceptive pills to feminine pads, there is a huge market supported by our silence. What the Church once did in making menstruation taboo, companies do today. “They know they can play on the shame of women, so they try to artificially recreate the shame, and the fear that somebody will find out that you are bleeding.”
The result is a trade worth millions, built on encouraging women to ignore their bodies and consume products to conceal their periods. “We are so focused on efficiency and productivity and the money that we don’t realize that we are harming ourselves,” said Fabiánová.
Our reticence to discuss menstruation, and the facile dismissal of it by doctors for whom it is both easier and more profitable not to investigate women’s complaints, is dangerous, allowing conditions like endometriosis to go undetected.
Even more insidiously, however, is that it disempowers women, who are taught not to investigate their own bodies and their own experience, but just to take painkillers or the pill instead.
When The Moon Inside You went on sale in Germany, Fabiánová said she was told that German women would not buy it, because “German women are not interested in their bodies.” Doctors are important when there are real medical complications, she said, but the danger is that “we always rely on doctors, on external wisdom, and we don’t trust our own instinct, intuition and just observing ourselves.”
Fabiánová’s refusal to accept the normalcy of her menstrual pain is only the first step of the journey. One of the most striking interviews is with Dr. Elsimar Coutinho, a leading figure in the development of the contraceptive pill and modern family planning.
Dr. Coutinho feels that menstrual pain should not be accepted as normal. In his view, menstruation itself is not normal. He proclaims that it is “incompatible with life” and with the order of nature, and that, whereas the ability to bear children is a gift of God, menstruation is clearly “a thing of the Devil.” Fabiánová does not accept this doctor’s facile dismissal of her quandary any more readily than she does the others. In the film, she states, “I found it hard to believe nature had inflicted us with something meaningless.”
In conversation with professors and dance therapists, with poets and doctors, Fabiánová seeks the meaning of menstruation, taking us down a path which leads ultimately not to toleration or rejection, but to understanding and acceptance.
She finds practical means to get in tune with her body and relieve her pain, but also a place for menstruation in our common human life, and the important roles which it plays for both men and women in our relationships and our understanding of ourselves as human beings.
“We should say to girls, ‘It’s not shameful,’ to kind of celebrate it,” she said, “to be aware why it is so important, and then to work with it.”
Originally published in The Concordian.